FIRST Lady Grace Mugabe has certainly wasted no time in restamping her authority.
By Conway Tutani
Within days of her return from a holiday and surgery in the Far East, all hell has broken loose in the ruling Zanu PF party. It’s all panic stations. They are all running scared. It’s as if everything was at a standstill, waiting for her to come back.
This can only point to one thing: The First Lady is now calling all the shots. She is now the person who has the most power to make all the important decisions in Zanu PF and – by extension – government. Talk of de facto rule! There has to be her seal of approval.
So, it’s not surprising that the First Lady had to be physically present for the Zanu PF disciplinary committee that sat and announced the pre-determined or foregone decision to expel Didymus Mutasa, one of the longest-serving members of the party. There had been a stay of execution during her absence.
There can’t be a more demonstrable show of power. That Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko was the chairperson of the so-called disciplinary hearing only served as a mere requirement, nothing more.
Now that she is back, the political fires have been stoked again. According to reports from insiders, another purge looms – and guess who is at the centre of it? The underlying fury of it all – carried over from last year – is simply frightening. Yes, we have had angry politics since last September and we have to be afraid, be very afraid. The tone is set at the top and what’s coming out does not sound good – not at all.
First, we had a barrage of attacks on former Vice-President Joice Mujuru in the State-controlled media.
This is what is called “attack journalism”. Attack journalism is when journalists only care about bringing down a prominent person, not about the truth or common good.
Lies — plain, defamatory, stupid lies — were told about Mujuru in the multi-pronged assault to bring her down by fair or foul means. Journalism went to the dogs.
But this does not detract from or take away the fact that some journalists in the private media have also gone overboard about the whole affair, making them both hypercritical and hypocritical. You don’t have to lie or overspeculate about Grace Mugabe as if in retaliation.
The rise of attack journalism raises questions about the proper role of journalism. We need equilibrium all round, not gratuitous insults.
Second, human limitation affects us all. No one is immune to ordinary human weakness. But the First Lady is being projected as all-knowing and unerring. She could be getting very bad advice from people around her – or none at all because some bosses are not receptive to frank and honest feedback that leads to a wise and proper course of action.
All of us – from a peasant to a president, from a jack to a king – need doses of admonition, caution, criticism, remonstration to shake us up from our comfort zones and creeping complacency. What’s wrong with a frank and firm warning among friends?
But the hangers-on surrounding the First Lady can’t bring themselves to do that. They lack the character and the courage. Telling the truth is a step too far.
Third, President Robert Mugabe, the doting husband that he is, is going along with all this. He appears to be extremely and uncritically fond of his wife. This excessive affection can cloud judgment, including over State matters. A line should be drawn between State affairs and marital issues, strictly so.
There should always be ethical considerations – that is, the rightness and wrongness of an action – prior to acting. Mugabe should take into consideration whether or not it is within the rules or standards of right conduct or practice, especially the standards expected of one holding the highest office in the land, to appear as if bending to every wish of his wife. Supporting one’s spouse should not be at the expense of democracy. But, then, when someone believes that results are all that matter in politics, ethics are thrown out.
There is need to separate political and family life. They must inhabit separate compartments. One should not drain the other. Rules should have larger and broader resonance, not promote, protect and privilege one person.
But when it comes to the First Lady, there are all sorts of exceptions and exemptions. It’s not healthy and proper for an individual to dominate like that. It can only be a recipe for disaster. Power should be handled with balance and proportion.
Fourth, in that co-ordinated onslaught, who doesn’t remember the so-called “Meet the People Tour” rallies last year when lumpen elements – people with nothing to do and nothing to lose – were transported countrywide and unleashed to attack the Zanu PF faction led by Mujuru?
Now these elements, who know no bounds, could be set on Mutasa to hound him out of his farm, going by the threats made by Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Mandi Chimene.
The excesses, particularly from women, have been shocking and disgusting. Irish statesman and political theorist Edmund Burke (1729-1797) observed that poor, uneducated women, who bear the brunt of sexism and patriarchy, if suddenly given a voice and the platform can be particularly vicious and cruel when frenzy catches on.
Wrote Burke in his political pamphlet Reflections on the Revolution in France (published in 1791): “. . . they (the deposed French King and Queen) were conducted (marched) to the capital of their kingdom . . . amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell, in the abused shapes of the vilest of women”.
Well, didn’t we have “horrid yells”, “frantic dances” (like kongonya), “shrilling screams”, and “all the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell” against Mujuru from the “vilest of women” at rallies last year? This was not a spectacle to admire. Self-respecting women would not be seen in public doing that. They don’t jump on the bandwagon.
We are not seeking to restore female subordination or to reinforce traditional gender roles, but not to have women used and exploited by politicians in what is clearly, for all intents and purposes, a crude, sexist way.
In our culture, just like in most societies, we associate greatness with fame, power or wealth. But these exploited women – and Zimbabweans at large – should be disabused of such notions and learn that they can be great in their own way. A mother who was abused as a child, but successfully raises a functional family is great. A street kid who has become a doctor is too. So is a prostitute who transforms into a successful ethical businesswoman. Indeed, greatness can be personal and private.
The lesson to remember is that powerful people are not necessarily better than we are – they are just more public and much more vocal.
As this political circus goes on and escalates, all we can say is: That’s not the way to achieve greatness.